The other night, Detroit's Armando Galarraga returned to the mound for the first time since being stripped of his historic perfect game by first base umpire Jim Joyce last Wednesday. Along with evidencing the enduring humanity that threads through our beloved game, the outcome of Joyce's missed call concurrently proved that -- despite three official perfect games in the last 11 months -- the beautiful feat has lost no sheen amidst the national purview.
Galarraga's perfecto would have served as the 21st perfect game in baseball's modern era (since 1900) and would have also charted as the sixth no-hitter/perfect game since last July. Since Major League Baseball began their current drug testing program in the spring of 2003, the adage of "chicks digging the long ball" has been steadily usurped by the attraction to en vogue arms.
Since 1900, there have been 224 no-hitters and perfect games in baseball; 14 of those have occurred since the drug testing of '03. In that same span of the previous seven seasons, just five men have reached or surpassed the 50 home run mark; in the seven season's preceding (1996-2002), the 50 spot had been achieved on 16 occasions.
Chicks are now digging the arm. But can the Twins get in on the scene?
The chances are no doubt slim, however the Twins are historically well-versed with the art of the perfect game. Of the 20 thrown, two have been against us: Catfish Hunter's on 5/8/68 and David Wells' on 5/17/98. One-time Twin Kenny Rogers tossed one for Texas back in 1994, and both Mike Witt (in his 1985 season opener following his season-ending perfecto of '84) and Mark Buehrle (last season) followed up their respective gems with games against the Twins. In addition, the club has been no-hit on two occasions -- via Vida Blue's no-no in 1970, and serving as the third of Nolan Ryan seven no-hit victims four years later.
Our Boys have fielded time on the winning side of four no-hitters in their 50-year history, withthe most recent tossed by Eric Milton over the Angels in mid-September of 1999. Prior to that, it was Scotty Erickson holding the Brewers hitless in the spring of '94. Four in 50 years may sound like a dearth, however it's really not too shabby considering that the Mets have never had one since their inception in 1962, nor have the Padres since their beginnings in '69.
Of the Twins modern-day staffers, there is nary a no-no to be found. But if I had to pick a guy to get in on the action, it would be vet Carl Pavano, who goes tonight against Kansas City. Among the alternate choices (in brief): Nick Blackburn pitches to an overt degree of contact; Francisco Liriano has never had a complete game in nearly 70 career starts; Kevin Slowey doesn't get nearly enough outs on the ground. Given strikeout stuff -- and his near perfect game vs. the Royals in September of '07 -- Scott Baker would be my second choice, however, like Slowey, his dearth of ground ball outs would seem to hurt his chances.
Of the 20 men to toss a perfect game, eight have been 30-plus years of age; the median service time when the feat was accomplished occurred in their eighth full season in the Bigs -- although nine of those hurlers were at least in their 10th year when tossing the perfecto.
Pavano is now 34 and in his 12th season in the Majors. While his abbreviated 2008 held him to just seven starts, like 18 of the perfect game pitchers he's working in the same league for at least the third consecutive year. Ironically, the only two who can't lay claim to that familiarity were fellow Phillies Jim Bunning (first year as a Phil' in 1964) and Roy Halladay this season.
Statistically, Pavano would appear to have the best Twins' makeup to make a run. For his career, he claims eight complete games (not bad for this era) and he's shown exceptional control in '10 with just 11 walks allowed this season. Given the diminutive walk rate it comes as no surprise that (like Blackburn) he pitches to contact at a heightened clip (about 82 percent). But the vet can also tally some strikeouts, charting 47 in his 11 starts this year -- of the 20 perfect games, it's perhaps worthy of note that at least six K's have been tallied in 18 of them. And while he's allowed a measured eight HR's on the year, Pavano sports a really solid grounder clip with 47 percent of batted balls finding dirt. Lastly, the righty has done an near-unparalleled job of getting the count in his favor this season, as evidenced by his nearly 69 percent first pitch strike rate, which is third-best in MLB.
Pavano may be just 5-6 on the season, but that mark is in large part a result of cruddy run support of just 3.4 per 9 inning pitched -- lowest among Twins' starters. In truth, he's corralled seven Quality Starts in his 11 outings and that bulky 4.11 ERA is really a result of two lame-duck outings.
We never know when lightening will strike an arm, but if we are so fortunate to witness Twins perfection in this new age of the pitcher, I'm looking for Pavano to make it rain.